'Coconut snatching' lives on with Halos
Manager Scioscia taking page out of mentor Campanis' book
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Observing one of his many protégés, Mike Scioscia, roaming the Spring Training camp of the Angels, the late Al Campanis would be smiling."Coconut snatching," one of Campanis' favorite pursuits as a baseball lifer with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, is alive and well in Anaheim under Scioscia as he embarks on his eighth season as manager. "I first time I heard of coconut snatching was in Dodgertown [as a young Dodgers catcher] when Al Campanis was talking about it," Scioscia said on Thursday morning at Tempe Diablo Stadium. "It came up when he moved Davey Lopes and Billy Russell from the outfield to the infield, and Steve Garvey moved from third base to first base, and when Dusty Baker, who'd been a center fielder, moved to left, that was coconut snatching -- to a lesser degree." Scioscia is vague on the origin of the expression, but it clearly left an impression. The Angels have employed position shifts in a variety of ways -- most notably with the incredibly versatile Chone Figgins -- and have been busy this spring exposing young talents to new positions. "You have to look at the versatility of players objectively," Scioscia said. "It's an important procedure to have in place in the evaluation of player development, to explore their possibilities." Brandon Wood, the gem of the farm system, has made a seamless transition from shortstop to third base, where his athleticism has eased any initial discomfort, and made a series of exceptional plays. Wood embraced the notion of expanding his game, knowing that shortstop is a loaded position in Anaheim, with Orlando Cabrera in his prime and another top prospect, Erick Aybar, a future star at the position. Blessed with uncommon speed and arm strength, Aybar has been snatched from shortstop and pointed toward center field, left field and second base this spring. If Aybar makes the 25-man roster, it will be in part because Scioscia has seen enough of him in the outfield to be comfortable giving him spot duty in support of Garret Anderson in left and Gary Matthews Jr. in center. "You'll have a player who looks like he'll be an all-world shortstop in A ball," Scioscia said, "but sometimes down the road he doesn't develop, or there's a logjam at the position, so you move him around.
"You have to see if there's a fit at the Major League level. That's why you see Aybar learning center field and second base, Wood third base, Figgy center field, third base. You never know what you're going to be presented with down the road."Robb Quinlan is probably as good an example as anybody. He was projected in A ball as a first baseman and DH, and through hard work, he's been able to play third base and the outfield." Another athlete competing for a roster spot, Tommy Murphy, had never played the outfield when he was moved from shortstop in the spring of 2004 after four seasons in the Angels' system. Undergoing a second transformation, from right-handed hitter to switch-hitter, Murphy has made steady progress and could figure prominently as the club's fourth outfielder with his full complement of talents. The Angels did a little coconut snatching on the fly last season with Howie Kendrick, turning the second baseman into a first baseman when the need surfaced. Kendrick's versatility enabled him to play first well enough to get his bat in the lineup, and he hit .303 in the second half. He's back at second base now, but he acknowledges that the time at first gave him a chance to get his feet planted on Major League ground. "I was just happy to play," Kendrick said. "Anything to get to the big leagues." That's the motto for Aybar, a 23-year-old speed merchant from Bani, Dominican Republic. Taking his cue from Figgins -- a shortstop who adapted beautifully to second and the outfield and now is an everyday third baseman -- Aybar has been happy to try his hands at new positions. "I like it out there [in center]," Aybar said. "It's fun to play with all that room. I just want to play. Whatever I can do to help the team, that's what I'll do." That was the attitude Al Campanis was looking for when he moved Lopes from center to second and Russell from center to shortstop as young players. This created the foundation of an infield in Los Angeles -- with Garvey and Ron Cey at the corners -- that endured together for a record eight seasons.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.